Tales of Heroes and Great Men of Old


Siyar al-Abtal wa-al-Uzama’ al-Qudama’ (Tales of heroes and great men of old) introduces young readers to classical mythology. It typifies many publications of the British and American missionaries in the Levant in the mid-to-late 19th century. Uplifting humanistic writing of this kind was new to the Middle East. It grew directly from the children’s book movement in Britain in the first half of the century, led by the British Tract Society, which later reinforced the efforts of American missionaries to the Middle East, such as Cornelius Van Dyck. The book includes such stories as “Jason and the Golden Fleece,” “The Battle of Thermopylae,” “Hector and Achilles,” and a description of the Olympiad. The author claims that the stories and myths illustrate “numerous ethical benefits such as control of our appetites and rejection of vengeance, injustice and blame in all their forms.” He declares further that “Greek morality exemplifies Christian morality in that it offers clear demonstration of self-respect and regard for the needs of others over our own needs.” Publication of the book was the result of cooperation between the British Tract Society, which provided funds, and the American Press in Beirut, which printed this generously illustrated book. Copies presumably were distributed at Protestant schools and churches operated by both British and American missionaries. Neither the author nor translators are named in the book, but the edition of 1883 mentions that it was written by S.S. Pugh, a British author of edifying books. Secondary sources identify the translators as Ya’qūb Sarrūf and Faris Nimr, classmates and later instructors at the Syrian Protestant College. They co-founded the influential periodicals al-Muqtataf (The selected) and al-Muqattam (The Muqattam Hills) and were granted honorary doctorates by New York University.

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

American Press, Beirut


Title in Original Language

سيرالابطال و العظماء القدماء

Type of Item

Physical Description

310 pages ; 20 centimeters

Last updated: September 18, 2014